[P6373] The Asian and African Provinces of the Ottoman Empire: Marginal Histories and New Approaches

Created by Jane Hathaway
Thursday, 12/02/21 11:30 am


This panel’s participants draw on largely underutilized sources on the Asian and African provinces of the Ottoman Empire to address two imbalances in Ottomanist historiography: first, recent revisionist models of early modern Ottoman statecraft have overgeneralized from case studies of Istanbul, Anatolia, and the Balkans; second, the Cultural Turn in Ottoman studies, while generating invaluable insights and methodologies, has drawn scholars away from the study of local particularities in the early modern period and toward sources produced by urban elites in the decades after the westernizing Tanzimat reforms (1839-76).
This panel expands our knowledge of provincial governance as an ongoing process of accommodation with an unexpectedly diverse cast of local actors. Ottoman Kurds in northern Syria, recent Muslim converts from Judaism, and merchants in Egyptian port cities all commanded access to economic, political, and spiritual capital that came into the view of bureaucrats and lawmakers seeking sources of provincial revenue and manpower.

This panel showcases critically informed approaches to sources from the “margins” of the empire to explore the boundaries of current scholarship on Ottoman sovereignty in the provinces. Paper 1 explores Jewish-Muslim intercommunal and commercial relations in the Egyptian port of Damietta through Ottoman-era documents preserved in the Cairo Geniza. Paper 2 uses more “conventional” fiscal, administrative, and legal documents in unconventional ways to trace the Ottoman state’s accommodations with and reliance on rural Kurdish notables in provincial administration in northern Syria from the sixteenth century through the Tanzimat period. Paper 3 provides a complementary analysis of Kurdish urban notables in Aleppo, using a combination of imperial and local archival and narrative sources. The final paper analyzes Ottoman responses to environmental and political crises in Egypt through the lens of intermediary groups and institutions in Alexandria around the turn of the nineteenth century. The panel’s discussant places these papers within a trans-imperial context.

Ottoman rule in Africa and western Asia transformed the nature of the empire from the sixteenth century onward, linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean, bringing new ethnic and religious groups under Ottoman authority, and extending imperial frontiers deep into the heartlands of the Islamicate world. Yet Ottoman historiography has treated the Asiatic and African provinces as particular, fissiparous, and of limited explanatory value. This panel embraces diverse experiences and local particularities to show how Kurdish confederations, regional ports, and shifting religious practices and identities shaped Ottoman efforts to command legitimacy and resources.


Hist; Hist; Hist




Jane Hathaway

(Ohio State University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Charles L. Wilkins

(Wake Forest University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

James Grehan

(Portland State University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Discussant;

Stefan Winter

(Koç University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Zoe Griffith

(Baruch College, CUNY)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;